Villa Cimbrone and the Terrace of Infinity

Ravello
The Terrace of Infinity

There is still a glittering stretch of sea flanked by towers, castles, and fortresses leftover from the Normans and which crown the rocks by the sea and above it.  Often referred to as the “Holy Grail” of Italy; Ravello is where our journey takes us today.  It is where musicians, politicians, authors, social scientists, and Hollywood stars have stayed and blossomed within their realm. While staying here author E. M Forster  wrote “A Room With A View.” President Eisenhower planned the attacks on Monte Cassino while at Ravello.  Jackie Kennedy vacationed here with her two children and Richard Wagner composed the second act of the opera “Parsifal”while at Ravello. It is where economist Maynard Keynes and author Virginia Woolf gathered with the London Bloomsburg group and where Greta Garbo eloped in order to marry Disney’s “Fantasia” composer, Stokowski, yet returned unmarried.

Their footsteps, though long covered over by others, remain as shadows of these famous characters who stayed in the this 9th century “Maritime Republic of Ravello,” a villa which at one time served as a shelter place against barbarian invasions.  History comes alive as you walk along medieval streets, garden villas, and ancient stone pathways. 

The biggest draw at Ravello is Villa Cimbrone, a picturesque residence rescued by Ernest Beckett (Lord Grimthorpe the 2nd) in the 1900s.  He restored areas that had been damaged by earthquakes and then combined Arab, Sicilian and Norman architectural elements as he proceeded with the help of  Nicola Mansi.  The English garden became a tribute to Beckett’s wife, Lucy, whom he lost after she gave birth to their son, Ralph William Ernest Beckett in 1891.  After Lord Grimthorpe’s death in 1917 his son remained at the villa as well as his daughter Lucy although Lucy did acquire La Rondinaia (Swallow’s Nest) eventually to live there only to sell it to Gore Vidal, an American writer. La Rondinaia today serves as a luxurious hotel which literally hangs on the cliff.

Villa Cimbrone
Hannah looking out at the Gulf of Salerno from the gardens at Villa Cimbrone
The gardens at Villa Cimbrone. Where the sky and sea blend together.
Cliff sides and terraces. I believe the dark green cover is for the olive trees or lemon groves.

Our journey to Ravello isn’t nearly as complicated as the history of Villa Cimbrone although it seems that way at the beginning. We take the bus to Positano Interno, and after purchasing the tickets at the tabacchi shop for the round trip, we walk to what we thought was the bus stop for the Sita bus to the Amalfi Coast Highway. A few initial walks (and the notorious stone steps) put us at Chiesa Nuova in upper Positano where my daughter says is the right spot. We never did find the lower piazza, Sponda. A couple who came along shortly after us started speaking to us in Italian (wow, is this a compliment) to ask if this was the bus stop for the Amalfi Coast Highway to Ravello.  My daughter’s English revealed our secret (now they know we are tourists). Waiting at the stop was entertaining. There were motorbikes going up steps, middle aged women waiting at the bus stop as well, and eventually the absolute cutest bus I have ever seen carrying some pre-school/kindergarten children for drop off around noon. Now it is just us and the other couple and we miss the bus!  Little did we know we were to be on the other side of the street, otherwise the Sita bus does not stop! What to do now? It’s already late! Discussion ensues and we decide to do the same thing as the couple….start walking to a bus stop that is further away from where it might be full when it comes through the next time. This entails walking up a winding, dizzying paved road for over a mile. This puts us at a bus stop which isn’t confusing since across the street is a restaurant/bar and below (if you dare to look) is a post office. These heights are a little daunting. However, it is the first time I’ve actually seen a gas station and this is our fourth day here.

At the Sita bus stop up the highway looking down at the Post Office
The second Sita bus stop we walked to in order to catch one that wasn’t full.

The bench is a welcome reprieve to our feet and the bus arrives soon after we do. We insert our tickets for validation and we’re on our way as is the couple from earlier. This is line 5070 (Positano to Amalfi) which takes approximately 45 minutes and then we’ll take line 5110 (Amalfi to Ravello) which takes another 25 to 30 minutes. The coastal road is paved but it is narrow and we’ll have twists and turns and a few times some sudden stops which, thanks to a passenger who wasn’t holding on, almost landed me in someone’s lap. My footing saved me as well as my hand on the bar. As we ascend this coastal highway, I feel like the roadrunner is along since every so often we hear, “beep, beep.” There are tunnels and castles along the route so I suggest if you want a good view of the water and the castles sit on the right side of the bus (if you can find a seat). 

We arrive at Ravello and depart close to the tunnel leading into the square where the Duomo (Cathedral) is. We will save that for after our walk to Villa Cimbrone. As is often the case in Italy you’ll see occasional pans left out for the cats which roam the villas and are a welcome sight by all. Our walk will take us a good fifteen minutes to reach Villa Cimbrone and the gardens but it is far from a boring walk. Cobblestone streets and lots of steps greet us as we pass the Hotel Rufalo and the many ceramic shops which dot our path. The entrance fee to Villa Cimbrone is 7.00 euros each. We have now passed by the cloisters and admire the colonnades of pointed arches where it is common to have a covered well at the center. We make our way to the Avenue of Immensity which takes us to the gardens and eventually to the Terrace of Infinity. As it is late September the begonias and hydrangea are still in bloom as are other native flowers in the gardens. The climate here allows things to bloom late into the fall. The gardens overlook the Gulf of Salerno and on a clear day it is an absolute breathtaking backdrop. Today it was the backdrop for a couple’s engagement.

After walking around in the gardens (and not seeing nearly one fourth of what is there) we continue on The Avenue of Immensity.  It is narrow yet wide enough for others to return and to pass on the other side. There are times you’ll stop just to view what looks like homes suspended in air as well as the umbrella pine and the lemon pergolas along the path sides. It is here where I finally saw the true Amalfi lemon which is world famous. Their only enemies are hail and wind and no pesticides are used on them as then they wouldn’t be able to deliver them to Pallini’s distillery in Rome. They are some of the largest lemons I’ve seen and supposedly can be eaten like an apple. Only the owners would know that though. Our long walk brings us to more pergolas covered in sweeping vines and to our reward, the Terrace of Infinity (Belvedere). It is a clear day with a few clouds but the perfect opportunity to see why it is such a sought after photo spot.  It wasn’t extremely busy when we were there so we were able to pass by the statue of Ceres, and take a few pics at the railings. It is here where you feel a million miles away from everything and the blue sky appears to dissolve into the waters of the bay. It is hard to tell where the horizon begins and ends. You also have a fantastic view of the terraced mountainsides with their olive and lemon groves as well as the homes which cascade down the cliff sides.

The many lemon groves we passed along the path to the Terrace of Infinity.

Retracing our steps brings us back to the town square and the center of attraction there, the Duomo. Oh no, it’s not open! You can still see the bronze door (circa 1179) from a distance but what a disappointment not being able to go in. I did find a video on-line from someone who was able to tour the inside (on a different date) and it is well worth watching just for the mosaic photos alone.  However, I cannot share that video. If you go there just hope it is open then.

Well, it is time to eat so we grab a Coke from the Duomo Café. However, since we are sitting down to eat, the cashier says he’ll have them brought out to us. Another chance to rest our feet and legs. We each order a Margherita pizza. Wow, that was fast. Not more than a couple minutes and our waiter is back with our Cokes and what’s this?  As he presents the almost 7 centimeter pizza rounds, Hannah responds, “You’re joking right?” Of course it is a joke (but also his way of flirting with her). He responds, “Yeah,” and says “the pizzas (the real ones) will be out shortly.”  Between him waiting on other tables he finds time to come back over and ask where we’re from.  Hannah responds, “D.C.”  His reply, “You mean the U.S. right?”  She responds, “Yes.”  Nice little chat and then he does bring out the real pizza. The Margherita is a nice change since most of our meals have all been tomato based and I’m hoping that it doesn’t turn me against them because I normally love tomatoes but in this area of Italy they seem to be a constant dish with everything! The Coke is in glass bottles, cold, and refreshing. It’s nice to have a little pick me up this time of day.

Margherita pizza

 

We walk back through the tunnel and to the bus stop so we can ride back down to Amalfi. Once again, we insert our tickets into the machine and we’re off. At Amalfi we have to wait on the other bus but that gives us plenty of time to buy more gelato.  I get a piccolo (small) cone of chocolate at the Amalfi terminal.  It is starting to get dark so our ride back should reveal the evening lights of the Amalfi Coast highway.  The circular bench at the terminal is massive enough that it is no problem to find seating.  When the bus arrives we are right there in order to get a seat.  These buses run every hour and on the way here I did overhear a local guide talking to someone and saying that in the peak of tourist season this trip can take two hours (it’s a forty minute drive) because of all the stops and tourists.  Glad we’re in the off-season and that it has been a little more involved in order to even travel. Our ride back is just as adventurous as our ride here.  Once again, it is a twisty, narrow, ride to Positano but lively. There’s something about the people of southern Italy that makes you feel at home. Even one of the locals told a tourist if you get lost you can stay at my casa. Most of it was in Italian so I could only understand small portions of the conversation but laughter is a universal language and we all understood that.  At one point the bus driver stopped at a roadside café and across from there was a hotel I believe.  We sat there for a good while and then we heard that they were filming on location and he stopped because of that. Don’t ask me what they were filming because I don’t know but if you ever watch something with a Sita bus in the background it could have been us. Too dark to see much though and it probably got cut. We arrive back in Positano around 7:00 p.m. That trip to and from Ravello cost a total of approximately 8.60 each which seems like a great deal to me. Just glad it wasn’t any hotter. 

What was the most interesting part (and coincidental) of this entire day was the fact that when we were walking back down the steps to the center of Positano that as we reached the bottom and started walking down the street the same couple we had waited with earlier this afternoon was also walking down the same street at the same time! What are the chances of that? We chatted again. Unfortunately we didn’t exchange names. It would be interesting to know where they were from. They said they brought the ferry back and that it was a beautiful ride and much easier. I guess if I ever go again I’ll find the strength to get on a ferry and enjoy the views. We go our separate ways and Hannah & I get our final tickets from the tabacchi shop so we can ride back to Montepertuso.

Once again, the cliff sides are aglow with lights like fireflies that guide us home. Now to check and see if my laundry I did this morning is dry out on the line. We both organize our things, load the dishwasher for its final spin and retire early after packing so we’ll be up for our 10 a.m. taxi ride which will take us to Pompeii tomorrow and then onto Napoli (Naples) where we’ll catch a train to Rome.

Sources:

Personal trip with my eldest daughter on September 27, 2021

https://whc.unesco.org

https://www.nationalgeographic.com

https://www.ravello.com

https://deliciousitaly.com/campania-naples-food

*Once you visit Ravello the yearning to return bites deep. It is not surprising that so many authors, musicians, religious deities, and others have found their peace to write, compose, or just to think while visiting this ancient villa and its mountain cliffside dwellings. The calm from a sea breeze, the merging of sea and sky, and the views are like a siren song you can’t get out of your head.

11 Comments

    1. I am also a history buff. It’s likely why it takes me so long to be satisfied with what I write because I want it to be as accurate as possible. Yes, I’m glad you caught that part. Even if it was only for a few seconds, it was a great feeling to think they thought we were part of the villa (town).

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I was there in 2019 and loved ever minute of it. Only visited Positano for one day as we spent the main part of the holiday in Sorrento with trips out from there. But what a glorious part of Italy (which is all glorious, really). I do hope you enjoyed Rome. I think it’s my favourite European city.

    Liked by 1 person

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